Mar 2004

The honour of the Crown: Recently, I have written about the joint federal and provincial McKenna-McBride reserve commission in BC, as well as the expropriation of reserve lands in this local area by the provincial government for the development of utility infrastructure. In addition to the continued denial of the existence of Aboriginal title, the commonplace practice of “cutting off” portions of reserve lands without the required consent of the affected people added significantly to the increasing dissension and became a further source of controversy amongst indigenous peoples and the Canadian governing systems.

The Aboriginal political organization known as the Allied Tribes of BC, continued to push for equitable treatment from the federal and provincial governments. Of importance to indigenous peoples throughout the British Empire was a 1921 ruling handed down from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, the highest court for Canada until 1949. The 1921 ruling of the Judicial Committee explicitly stated that Aboriginal title throughout the British Empire was a pre-existing right that “must be presumed to have continued unless the contrary is established”.

By 1925, the Allied Tribes of BC were petitioning the Canadian Parliament for an inquiry into the continuing denial of Aboriginal title in BC and the excessive reserve land cut-offs. As a means of keeping the title issue out of court, the federal government agreed to the inquiry. However, in 1927, the inquiry committee disregarded the ruling of the Judicial Committee by rejecting the claims of the Allied Tribes. By disregarding the ruling of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council about the pre-existence of Aboriginal title, the honour of the Crown was obviously neglected and even denied.

The relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown (as represented by government s) in Canada has been characterized as a special fiduciary or trust relationship. This special trust relationship is based upon the historical, political and legal relationship established between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples from the time of contact.

The trust or fiduciary nature of the relationship carries with it duties or obligations upon the Crown in its dealings with Aboriginal peoples. Based upon this fiduciary relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples, the Crown has legal and enforceable responsibilities and requirements placed upon it, and therefore, the Crown is expected to adhere to a strict standard of conduct.

A cursory review of Canadian history and the relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples will quickly show that the expectation of adhering to a strict standard of conduct has not been achieved by the successive representatives of the Crown. Indeed, the apparent collaboration between the federal and provincial governments regarding Aboriginal issues in BC has repeatedly flown in the face of British and Canadian legal standards.

Unfortunately the continuing fallout of this perpetual disregard for the honour of the Crown has been the dispossession of Aboriginal peoples in BC of their territorial lands, the socio-economic strife of severely curtailed life chances, tied together with the disintegration and loss of indigenous cultures.

Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News Mar 2004
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